Manly's little penguins reunite for the breeding season with help of an Australian first trial

Little penguins (Eudyptula minor) are the smallest of all penguin species. They stand approximately 33cm tall and weigh around 1 kilogram, with males weighing slightly more than females.

Little penguin (Eudyptula minor), chicks with adult

Sydneysiders are lucky enough to have a population of little penguins living right on their doorstep. This endangered population of little penguins, in a secluded cove in Sydney's North Harbour, is the only breeding colony on the NSW mainland and their breeding habitat been declared as critical habitat.

Each year, between May and February, the little penguins return to Manly to breed. For those who have been lucky enough to witness pairs of little penguins reuniting for breeding season, it is a very cute and amazing sight to be seen! But it can also be problematic for the endangered little penguins who are at risk of injury or death from fox and dog attacks, boat strikes, fishing lines, hooks and rubbish and deliberate destruction of their nests.

Efforts to protect the colony at Manly have been ongoing but recovery has been slow since a 2015 fox attack killed 27 breeding birds. The little penguins had previously bred in up to 15 nests within and below the Australian Institute of Police Management (AIPM) near Collins Flat at Manly. The breeding population at this site was severely impacted by a fox attack in June 2015. The birds have not been returning to this site to breed.

Since this time two breeding seasons have elapsed with little indication of pairs re-establishing on site. Penguins have certainly visited the area, but not in sufficient numbers or at the same time for pairs to have bonded and bred. However, there is the potential to attract penguins to the site, and an Australian first trial is currently underway to help do this.

Sound equipment has been installed by Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) Science on Collins Flat to encourage the little penguins to come ashore after dark for breeding in the particular location that was most affected by a fox attack two years ago. Sound attraction has been used in New Zealand and around the world to encourage burrowing sea bird breeding since the late 1980s, but this is the first time a sound system has been used to encourage little penguin breeding in Australia

Funded under the Saving our Species program, the sound system will broadcast nocturnal breeding colony calls of the little penguin at night during the courtship and egg laying period of the breeding season.

Erica Mahon, Senior Threatened Species Officers from OEH has also offered some tips for local Manly residents, or visitors to Collins Flat on what they can do to help support the little penguins during breeding season:

  • Responsible pet ownership is key. Dogs and other domestic pets are not permitted in the national park and should be left at home
  • Please don’t look for penguins – if you disturb then, including shinning a torch, you can interrupt their breeding
  • Remember that fines apply for looking in the penguin nest boxes.

“We ask everyone to please respect that Collins Flat, Store Beach and Quarantine Beach are closed at sunset to allow safe passage for the penguins. The best place to see penguins is Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary or at a safe and respectful distance from Manly Wharf.”

It takes the whole community to protect this special colony and the dedicated NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service team extends its thanks to everyone involved in keeping the little penguins safe, including the 50 volunteer little penguin wardens, the Australian Institute of Police Management (AIPM), the Zoo, Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary, Northern Beaches Council, NSW Police and the local community.

For more information, please visit the Little Penguins Manly page.